“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
I am reminded of the famous line from the newspaper cartoon “Pogo” from the 1960s.
“Us” would be the population over 60, which includes a large and growing segment of my Baby Boomer generation (the youngest members turn 56 this year).
And to what have we been ascribed as the enemy?
Church attendance, it turns out.
A story popped up last week from a small Methodist church in a Minnesota suburb that was essentially closing its doors in order to reboot. When it reopens a few months later, the church’s primarily over 60 members are being strongly encouraged to find somewhere else to worship, to give the church a chance to restart with a younger crowd.
And while I had the same visceral reaction I suspect many of you did, on some levels I also understand it.
And this is not to point any fingers at any church congregation.
Look around, and you will see that many organizations are seeing their membership age, and in some cases, fade away as younger members do not come aboard to replace them. Civic clubs, friends groups and other volunteer organizations, and many others are trying to figure out how to attract younger members in order to sustain them and the important roles they play in our communities.
That would be an especially tough challenge in communities where retirement is a cottage industry.
I won’t identify the church – it’s not in this immediate area – but one we visited several years ago was somewhat stark in the way we perceived it as we visited for the first time. We appeared to actually lower the average age of the congregation, and we’re fast leaving behind the spring chicken crowd.
It was a loving and welcoming congregation, but the percentage of those past the 60 threshold had to be high.
For the record, the story said that no one would be physically restricted from attending the Minnesota church when it reopens its doors, just gently encouraged to worship in another of the denominations’ nearby churches.
It will be interesting to see if a church can start over and bring in younger folks.
The church I grew up in many decades ago had a vibrant youth program, and the last time we visited, its youth department still seemed to be going strong. But it’s a larger church in a much larger town. I’m guessing the challenge would be a lot tougher in a smaller church community, where a handful of families can make up a significant portion of the membership. And once the kids move on, who will replace them?
Anyone who studies church membership will tell you that in the past two decades, non-denominational churches have acquired the bulk of church membership growth, while the mainline denominations have fought declining enrollment and aging membership. I have not seen figures to show the average age those churches attract.
I don’t pretend to know any viable solutions, and as I am now a part of the “problem,” I’m not sure my input would be all that welcome anyway.